When you’re traveling, time isn’t always a luxury you can afford. But two minutes might be all you need to take in that historic landmark. In 20 minutes, you can have lunch at that famous café. In 120 minutes, you can tour that iconic gallery. By shifting your sense of time, you can manage it, maximize it, and have a journey that’s as full as it is fulfilling.
Though millions still visit the U.K. capital in search of Big Ben, red buses, and a flash of Kate Middleton’s pearly whites, London is a creative, multicultural hub with delights that go far beyond the traditional tourist checklist.
These days, digital nomads are part of the city’s fabric, meaning you’re never far from a coworking space, or else a coffee shop with wifi as strong as its single-origin roast. And with an egalitarian approach to culture (most major museums and galleries are free), there’s no shortage of inspiring places to get a little work done—but not too much. Here’s how to make the most of a 48-hour trip.
World Food and Waterside Views
Brunch the Mumbai way
Inspired by the Irani cafés of mid-century Mumbai, Dishoom serves one of the best breakfasts in town. There are five London branches, but King’s Cross is the best, filling three storeys of a Victorian transit shed. Order the legendary Bacon and Egg Naan Roll, take advantage of the unlimited house chai, and let the decor transport you to a bygone age (except with wifi).
Stop, shop, and stroll
Not so long ago, the area behind King’s Cross station was an urban wasteland; now it’s a bustling neighborhood. Bypass the scrum around Platform 93⁄4 and head straight to Granary Square, the canalside hub where you can watch open-air movies in summer, and people all year round. Right next door is Coal Drops Yard, a shopping destination nicknamed “cash drops hard”, where you can find irresistible wares like artisan candles from Earl of East and bespoke spectacles from Cubitts.
“Discerning locals will tell you they prefer Maltby Street Market or Flat Iron Square. But for sheer sensory overload you can’t beat Borough Market…”
To market, to market
Discerning locals will tell you they prefer Maltby Street Market or Flat Iron Square. But for sheer sensory overload you can’t beat Borough Market, which has been around since the 12th century. Today, greengrocers and cheesemongers share the Dickensian cobbles with street food vendors, pastry shops, tapas bars, and taquerias—while the U.K.’s tallest skyscraper, The Shard, looms overhead.
True to national stereotypes, Londoners love to queue. But if the line at pasta bar Padella is too long to stomach (the beef shin pappardelle is sensational), try a toasted cheese sandwich from Kappacasein Dairy. And then head straight to Monmouth Coffee—a bean nerd’s dream—and Bread Ahead for a filled doughnut. Watch your shirt.
Gain perspective at the Tate Modern
Swerve the museum crowds of South Kensington and get your culture fix at the Tate Modern, home to some of the world’s most celebrated contemporary art. A 10-storey extension offers panoramic views across the city, while regular panel talks, workshops, and events will help get the creative juices flowing. If inspiration hits, grab a seat and an espresso at the museum café, and jot down your ideas.
Admire the skyline from the South Bank
Even the most territorial North Londoner can’t resist a stroll along the South Bank—if only to better take in the sights of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, and The Gherkin (the giant pickle-shaped building) from a romantic distance. Plus the laptop-friendly bars in the Southbank Centre are ideal for an email pitstop.
While the historical gravitas of Shakespeare’s Globe can’t be beat, those hard Elizabethan benches can. Get comfy at the Bridge Theatre instead. Opened in 2017, its repertoire focuses on new writing and dynamic, immersive productions. Early-birds should take advantage of the pre-show snacks: St. John’s old-school British menu (think Welsh Rarebit and Crispy Pig’s Cheeks) will keep you going until the final curtain.
Have a nightcap in the clouds
Watch the city glitter from Duck and Waffle, a 24-hour spot on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower. Its eponymous dish, a belt-straining plate of confit duck, fried egg, waffle, and mustard maple syrup, is served all through the night—and the cocktails are as intoxicating as the view.
Peaceful Reprieves and Eclectic Antiques
“No matter the weather, London loves outdoor swimming—and unlike some pools, London Fields Lido is mercifully heated.”
Dive right in
No matter the weather, London loves outdoor swimming—and unlike some pools, London Fields Lido is mercifully heated. Start the day with a dip and then cross the park to have breakfast at E5 Bakehouse, an organic bakery and flour mill with a reputation that extends far beyond its humble home beneath a railway arch. Savor the phenomenal sourdough, and pocket a mini chocolate babka for later.
Log on in London Fields
Luxury coworking spaces are abundant in East London, with three—WeWork, Second Home, and Work.Life—so close they could almost share an IP address. But if membership is too much commitment, the ornate Bethnal Green Library is a peaceful spot to enjoy some free internet, no strings attached.
Have a proper bagel on Brick Lane
Beigel Shop or Beigel Bake? Every Londoner has a personal favorite, though truth is the neighboring 24-hour bagel shops are equally great. Cheap, cheerful, and authentically Jewish, their beigels (pronounce it right for extra kudos) have been an East End institution since long before the hipsters moved in. Order yours with salt beef and a slick of hot mustard, to eat while admiring the local street art.
“Notting Hill may have changed a lot since Hugh Grant lived behind that famous blue door, but the candy-colored neighborhood still exudes charm.”
Shop for souvenirs on Portobello Road
Notting Hill may have changed a lot since Hugh Grant lived behind that famous blue door, but the candy-colored neighborhood still exudes charm. On Saturdays, Portobello Road becomes the world’s largest antiques market, but you can find eclectic treasures at Alice’s five days a week.
Road test a tasting menu
Park yourself at 108 Garage for the best Euro-Asian cuisine you’ll encounter all year. The decor is coolly industrial, the welcome is warm, and the enigma of dish names like “Goats’ beard, tarama, green olive, pistachio” and “Rhubarb, camel milk, marjoram” only adds to the fun.
“Built in 1750, bedecked in flowers, and crammed with wartime memorabilia, The Churchill Arms is an eccentric Chelsea boozer and living tribute to the late Prime Minister.”
Raise a glass at The Churchill Arms
Where else can a British night end, but the pub? Built in 1750, bedecked in flowers, and crammed with wartime memorabilia, The Churchill Arms is an eccentric Chelsea boozer and living tribute to the late Prime Minister. Order a pint of the London Pride—naturally.
Two days—48 hours—doesn’t seem like a lot. But what if you change your mindset: what if you think about it as 2,880 minutes? You can’t alter the passage of time, but you can change how you calculate it, perceive it, and use it. Make the most of every minute in Chicago with these local favorites, and then check out our local guides Toronto, Brooklyn, and Chicago.